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Mat Work and Trailers: Part 2

I hope you played with mats and moving them to different locations last week and worked a bit on building duration as well after your horse was ok in the new locations. This week we are going to add in a couple more components.

The first one is playing the targeting game on the mat to make the mat an even better and more interesting place to be. So, you will hold up your target while he is on the mat and reward for his touching the target with his nose as well as clicking and treating for his just standing on the mat.

Before you try the trailer you need to make sure your environment is set up to make him successful.

Try and place the trailer (hooked to the truck!) in an enclosed area so that you can turn you horse loose to find the mat. If you have trained the exercise on a lead then introduce off lead in an enclosed area, before introducing the trailer.

Now place you mat in the pen away from the trailer. Take the time to read your horses emotions. Is the mere presence of the trailer causing him some stress? If so try and get him engaged in the mat work. Have the mat away from the trailer and have him target the mat facing away from the trailer to start. Build his attention and confidence.

The whole time you are doing this exercise it is VERY important to remember that the thought in your mind should not be ‘get him on the trailer’ but ‘target his mat.’ If you change how you are doing what you have been doing with the mat just because the trailer is now there your body language and intent will be different and your horse will pick up on this. If you think different you are different.

Now play with moving the mat about within the corral. Move it closer and see how he feels about that, move it farther. Put the mat just in the trailer so he can just put his front feet in on it as this will also allow you to treat easier if you trailer is awkward to get into but don’t force it if he won’t target it there yet. Gather data to see where he is at in his mind, now that the trailer is in the picture. Remember to use high rates of reinforcement for being on the mat; it is a good place to be. There is also no agenda re: ‘he HAS to get on the trailer today.’ Take the time to make the experience positive for both of you.

If he is already ok with going on the trailer this may not be a big thing. He might, if you have done all the component parts well enough, just hop in the trailer, onto his mat and look to you for his click and treat. It can be just that easy. Go into the trailer with him…this will depend on the type of trailer you have…if it is a small straight load you may have to figure out the best way for you to click and treat him while he is on the mat.

Plan BEFORE you get him out to play. Walk through the scenario of what you hope to do. Do a dry run without him before to make sure YOU know how you would like it to go and find any spots that might need a bit of changing or work to get it smooth. The time taken in planning and preparation will pay off when you do finally add the horse into the picture.

Let me say one more word about teaching trailer loading. It always seems that whenever someone is trying to trailer load helpful folk seem to appear out of the woodwork.If this happens while you are practicing and they offer to help I would encourage you to say thanks but we’re not really practicing trailer loading, we’re practicing standing on a mat.

It is often hard, when doing something different, to stay true to your path. You need to do what you feel is right for you and your horse. This is especially hard to do if you are a novice horse owner and all the people with more experience are telling you that this is not the way to do it, it won’t work.

If clicker training can get a killer whale to swim up and hold still to let them draw blood (no halter here folks and no dragging them where he doesn’t want to go) getting a horse to load himself onto a trailer using clicker training will be easy.

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